Mahamuni tradition and its influence over Rakhaing people Skip to main content

Mahamuni tradition and its influence over Rakhaing people

Mahamuni Tradition is not an afterthought. It is genuinely old and implicitly believed in by successive generations that came after it. According to the Rakhaing history, kings of Rakhaing, even after they had moved their capitals to various other sites, always recognized that it was a scared duty for them to visit it from time to time and generally made it the occasion for great religious feasts of charity. In such cases they invariably left some votive offering, may be a small shrine or an image, as a memento of their distinguished visit.

Manrique, a western traveler in 1630 AD, described the pomp ceremony involved in a royal pilgrimage to the shrine; the King Thiri Thudhamma Raza himself traveled on a raft, which was a replica of his Mrauk-U palace.

The King worshipped the image by offering flowers, food, incense, light and prayers and used to keep Sabbath taking nine or ten precepts. After keeping long Sabbath, the animals, especially birds, were let escape by the king.

Do Wai, a historian in Maha Razawan, recounts that as part of coronation ritual of Rakhaing Kings, 50 coins struck to commemorate the new reign, together with 50 coins struck in the previous reign were deposited by the new king in the hole dedicated to Wathoun-darei, the Goddess of Earth, at the front of the Mahamuni Image.

The other outstanding customs were as follows: prisoners of war, especially royal family, were donated by the Kings as pagoda-slaves at the Mahamuni shrine. This tradition is very popular among the Rakhaing monarchy and may be a kind of amnesty for their lives according to Buddha's teachings.

Public Religious Functions

During the harvest time, new crops and first fruits are offered to Mahamuni image by the people. Villagers cook fresh rice and make various sizes of pagodas on their plates and go together to the shrine with joyfulness.

During the fine season, the lay people have noviciation ceremonies for boys who spend some time, usually a week or more, in a monastery under the guidance of a revered abbot to have the experience of the life of a monk. This ceremony is called Shonpru-Mongala.
During the period of Wasoe, people would keep Sabbath taking eight silas or precepts.
In the month of Tanzaungbone, the weaving festival is held in the Mahamuni shrine Girls from the villages sit under the full moon engaging in weaving competitions as they make new robes for the monks.

Ancient Rakhaing Coins

The sun and the moon are always inscribed in ancient Rakhaing coins. They are the auspicious symbols of the Rakhaing nationals. The symbols of the sun and the moon have some relations with the Mahamuni tradition. King Sanda Suria was the donor of the Mahamuni shrine. Sanda means "the moon" and Suria means "the sun". It is widely believed in Rakhaing that the reason for expressing the symbols of the sun and the moon on the ancient coins is that King Sanda Suria was regarded as the donor of the Mahamuni shrine and as a hero who introduced Buddhism into Rakhaing. The sun carries the meaning of loyalty, power, and bravery and the moon refers to peace and prosperity. Even at present these symbols are still used officially in the state flag and the state seal of Rakhaing, as a state of the union of Myanmar.

Ancient Bronze Bells

After the scared Mahamuni Image was finished the shrine became the religious center of the kingdom and people of Rakhaing became Buddhists. It fame spread far and wide. Ever since the introduction of Buddhism, Rakhaing professed Buddhism without break up to the present. According to the Theravada Buddhism bells are hung under the Hti of caitya and hung at the terrace of pagodas and monasteries with the hope that they would have a sweet voice and oral power whether in this existing life or in the future existences. In addition, Buddhists strike the bells in order to achieve nirvana after their meritorious deeds. Fortunately two inscribed ancient bells were found in the vicinity of Mahamuni shrine. One of the bells seems to be a caitya bell and the other a monastery bell. The caitya bell is about 11.5 cm high and it weights over 2 lbs. The other monastery bell is 9.8 cm high and weights half as heavy as the first one. Both of these bells are of the cup form and made of bronze. Generally these shapes resemble the top of a stupa. The shape is still used for bells in Myanmar today. Thus, it is said that modern bells are derived from these bells. Two lines of writing were inscribed around the center of both bells. Palaeographically their casting time can be dated in the first quarter of the 6th century AD. The language is a mixture of ancient Rakhaing and Sanskrit. The inscriptions present the dedication by the donors for the benefit of their spiritual preceptors and their parents. These are pious offerings of the Theravada Buddhists. Such are the beliefs and practices of the present day Buddhists of Rakhaing State. This may be related to the Mahamuni Tradition. Both of these inscribed bells are kept in Sittwe at present. Visitors can see and study them in Buddhist Museums.

Five Characteristics of Mahamuni Image

(1) Crowned Buddha

Mahamuni Image is dressed up with all the attributes of King. It shows that Buddha had been regarded as a Devatideva, god of gods or king of kings. Anyway, Buddha is also a Great being, a deity and the glory of the three kinds of being, where he appears in monastic robes or in royal robes.

(2) Facing East

Mahamuni Image always faces east. It is the representation of Enlightenment, one of the Great events of the master's life. It carries the ideas of priority, success, good foundation, originally and auspiciousness.

(3) Bhumisparas Musra

Mahamuni Image performs Bhumisparsa mudra and sits on a decorated throne. In this mudra, the left hand rests on the lap with the palm upward and the right palm down resting on the right knee and touching the ground below. The representation of the Enlightenment and the incidents has a relation with the above-mentioned mudra and with the favourite themes of the Buddhist artists of all schools. According to the well-known events of Buddha, he, by touching the earth, gave notice to the Earth-Goddess Wathoun-darei to come and be the witness of his accomplishments. This mudra indicates the movement when ceased to be a Bodhisattva and became Buddha. The Blessed One did this because Mara, the evil one, came to attack with his numerous followers. This posture Bhumisparsa mudra can be interpreted as the victory over evils or enemies as well as the strength, stability, steadfastness and solidarity.

(4) Virasana Sitting Posture

The legs are folded and overlapped with the feet brought to rest on the thighs and the soles of the feet turned upwards with the right leg on the left leg. This is called Virasana. Right leg means fairness and left leg means evil. This sitting posture virasana stands for the assurance of fearlessness, tranquility, auspiciousness, and protection given by the Mahamuni Image. It is believed to be a sign of success.

(5) Compassionate Smile

Mahamuni Image has a remarkable face. Just by seeing the outstanding face of Mahamuni Image, one can feel how fine the art of sculpture is. Wide forehead, prominent nose, finely etched eyebrows, almost meeting at the center; downcast eyes, full lips and slight smile denote the compassionate heart of Mahamuni. It is highly venerated. Hundreds of copies in temples and pagodas in Rakhaing and beyond are reputed to be replicas of the original copy of the Blessed One. But it is impossible for anyone to copy the exact facial expression of the Mahamuni Image.

The Land aof Rice

"Then the Blessed One addressed his disciples thus: "O Rahans, my beloved son! In the island of Jambudipa and among the 16 countries of Majjhimadesa, the food offered to the priesthood consists of a mixture of maize, corn and millet and beans. But in this country, the food offered consists of various kinds of barely and rice: such food is eaten by the priest with relish; my preceding elder brothers (Kakusan, Gotamana and Kassapa, i.e. the three Buddhas who preceded Gotama) have called this country Dhanyawaddy and as the inhabitants have never suffered from famine, this region shall in all times continuously be called Dhanyawaddy (i.e. the grain blessed)".

Since then the land has retained that name. This term applies very fittingly to Rakhaing; whose wealth depended principally on the extensive regions of its Riceland, with a rainfall of over two hundred inches a year and the crop has never failed. There are plenty of grains in the fields seasonally.


After the Lord Buddha had preached the people of Dhanyawaddy, they became Buddhists throughout the centuries, ever since the introduction of Buddhism up to the present time, Rakhaing professed Buddhism without any break. The Mahamuni Image formed the center of religious worship. Pagodas were built on the top of the hills by the kings and the public donors throughout the generations. Thus, innumerable pagodas belonging to all ages can be found in the historical sites of Rakhaing.

The Kaladen River

Visitors can go to Mahamuni by this river route named Kaladan, the main river of Rakhaing. The river has been very useful and most popular throughout the Rakhaing history. Kings and inhabitants of Rakhaing used this river to pay their devotions. According to the Manrique's description in 1630 AD, Thirithudhamma Raza, a king of Mrauk-U dynasty made his devotion to Mahamuni with the tremendous water celebration along the Kaladan River.

It is suggested that this name, Kaladan was derived from Kular-Tant. According to local chronicles, which can be summarized as follows:

At one time, when the upper Kaladan River was flooded by heavy rains, a prince who came from Kapilavastu and his princess, the daughter of a local tribal chief, were swept away and finally landed on the bank near Salagiri hill. The river was therefore named Kulartant (kular-swim), (tant-stop). Later on it changed to kular-tan>>kulardan and kaladan, etc. The ancient name of the Kaladan River is Gicchabhanady. The term originates from Pali word, meaning "Tortoise shell River". Because there are many stones which look like tortoise-shell in the upper river. In winter, one can see many Siberian geese in the river. Sometimes the great crocodiles are also found in tidal creeks of Kaladan River.

Urite-Taung Pagoda

An hour later along the river route, one can see a pagoda on the left bank of the Kaladan River. This is Urite Taung Pagoda, situated on the top of a small hill lock, 188 feet high, at a distance of 16 miles to the north of Sittwe.

The pagoda is 153 feet high, and the view from the pagoda's terrace is spectacular. The Kaladan river sparkle like diamonds in the sunshine and runs down finely. If the sky is clear, you can see the distant land in all directions. In Mrauk-U King's period there had been a Rakhaing naval base in Kaladan River at the foot of Urite-Taung Pagoda. The history of Urite Taung Pagoda was very interesting and related to the Mahamuni tradition. Buddha held a discourse with his disciples and then addressed Anada thus:

"Further to the south and near the Gicchabhanady there is a steep rocky hill known as the Salapabbada; there I lived during one of my former existences. I was born as a Brahman versed in Vedas; my skull, measuring two palms (about 18 inches) in circumference, still remains there and will be enshrined in a pagoda to be named Urite-Taung Zarti".

According to the Buddha's prophecy the Urite Taung Pagoda was built by King Mong Phalaung in 1574 AD.
Sources: Rakhapura


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